Highly featured, very secure and super-protective, Palm Descender kayak shoes are ideal for committed paddlers running rapids and taking on big swell all year round.
There are all kinds of paddlers out there, ranging from dabblers who mostly like to launch from sandy beaches and use sit-on-top craft and SUPs in the height of summer, through to much more committed kayakers who enjoy their sport all year round, taking on technical stretches of rivers, with rapids and other obstacles, or steering their sea kayaks through churning surf into the midst of big swell well beyond the break zone.
The Palm Descenders are designed for the latter group, and they are undoubtedly among the very best kayak shoes currently available.
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Palm Descender kayak shoes: look and feel
It’s clear from the outset that the Palm Descenders are serious shoes for serious paddlers. Made mostly from neoprene, they are only available in black, but that’s irrelevant, because these shoes are all about on-water performance and functionality, and not at all about fashion – you’re very unlikely be going to the bar in the Descenders, they’re for on-river and ocean use only. And in those wild elements they look the business and perform brilliantly.
Fortunately, they are also perfectly comfortable to wear, with a soft lining that feels nice next to your skin and an element of cushioning in the midsole. They do not drain or allow your feet to breathe, though, so on warm days they can run pretty hot (but you’re unlikely to be wearing them too much in the middle of summer).
Palm Descender kayak shoes: design and materials
Made from 4mm CR limestone neoprene (as opposed to petroleum-based neoprene), the Palm Descenders have excellent thermal properties.
Working in the same way as a wetsuit, a small amount of water becomes trapped inside the boot and that is then warmed up by the wearers’ body heat, which in turn keeps your feet feeling toasty and warm in virtually all conditions.
There’s a quick-dry thermal lining inside the boots too, which improves how comfortable they feel next to your skin and adds to the warming properties of the footwear.
The thick, stiffened rubber outsole features fairly aggressive triangular-shaped lugs to provide traction and prevent slips during put-ins and portages. It’s easily thick enough to see off puncture wounds from sharp objects on the floor, concealed by sand, mud or murky water.
This outsole also wraps right around a large percentage of the foot, offering excellent levels of protection for toes, heels and insteps.
The GlideSkin O-ring prevents ingress of debris, and the two-directional Velcro straps ensure a really tight and secure fit on the foot. A seemingly simple but very effective design element is the pair of pull loops on the cuff of these boots, which make them much quicker and easier to pull on and take off than they otherwise would be.
Primarily designed for more experienced paddlers intending to negotiate lumpy seas and technical rivers with stretches of whitewater, these kayak boots have an excellent tightening system that runs right around the heel and tightens across the top of the foot, which ensures they stay firmly on your feet even when you’re running rapids, doing drops or getting clobbered by big swell and breaking waves.
So far I have only had the opportunity to test these shoes during the summer months, which is not the kind of conditions they’re primarily intended for, but I have worn them on both slippery and sharp surfaces, without encountering any problems.
It’s also very clear that they boast all the properties required to keep feet warm and well protected in far more challenging conditions. I’m looking forward to getting out on some rushing rivers and amid the waves while wearing the Palm Descenders in the coming months.
The build quality is excellent, with seams both blind-stitched and glued, and I expect these kayak shoes to last for many seasons of sensational high-octane kayaking and rafting.
These excellent high-performance paddling shoes are the kind of full-on footwear you reach for when conditions are burly. Whether you’re running rapids in a raft, canoe or kayak, shooting a technical creek or paddling out to sea in big swell surrounded by feisty waves, Palm Descenders will protect your feet whatever happens. Best suited for use on wild and wintery days, these 4mm-thick three-quarter shoes will keep you warm in cold conditions. They’ll never come off, no matter how hectic conditions get, and the GlideSkin O-ring reliably keeps grit and other irritants from getting in. If you like to paddle hard in all conditions, then the Palm Descenders are a great choice of shoe for you.